By the Boards: Dennis Brown on the STL Theater Scene October 22-25


It used to be that a rite of passage for every theater company was to stage Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Times have changed. Now that rite of passage seems to have passed on to The Rocky Horror Show. This week the NonProphet Theater Company takes its best shot. Consider yourself alerted. Or warned, as the case may be.

I'm still on a high from the joint Black Rep/Washington University Performing Arts Department production of the epic musical Ragtime. In the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to fill out a comment that appears in this week's Riverfront Times review. I quote theater composer Stephen Schwartz, who describes Ragtime as "a great musical, a classic musical." What I did not have space to run -- either in this week's review or six years ago in a conversation with Schwartz -- was the second half of his comment. Schwartz, of course, is known as the composer of Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. He is less remembered as the lyricst of a 1986 musical titled Rags, which closed after four performances. Set on Manhattan's  Lower East Side in 1910, Rags, like Ragtime, deals with the immigrant experience. What Schwartz also said during our conversation in 2003 was, "It wasn't until I saw Ragtime that I realized what we had done wrong in Rags."
It's not easy to dramatize the immigrant experience. I know that at firsthand, having served as the publicist for Ellis Island, a 1984 television miniseries that mostly got it wrong. The fun thing about working on a six-hour miniseries was that you dealt with so many actors. The Ellis Island cast included Richard Burton (in his final role), Claire Bloom, Ben Vereen and Melba Moore, who portrayed -- no great stretch for her -- a sassy Cotton Club chanteuse. Offscreen, I still remember Moore as modest, unassuming and gentle, a performer who was appreciative of everything that came her way. Moore is giving a benefit concert (for Community Women Against Hardship) this Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Sheldon. I wish her well.

Finally, a note about Sleuth [scroll down], which continues its jolly run at the Rep. I cannot comment on the production, not having seen it. But I've certainly seen Sleuth. The most bizarre version is the 2007 movie adaptation from director Kenneth Branagh. The screenplay by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter omits any trace of fun and replaces it with menace. The film is so strange, it practically demands to be seen.


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